Not just ducks and geese prevailed at the U.S. Supreme Court when it rejected a challenge to the California law banning the sale of foie gras and force feeding birds to get it.
On Jan. 7 the high court also rebuffed a group of state attorneys general who brought suit against the California law requiring all eggs sold in the state to come from hens kept in cages big enough for them to turn around and spread their wings. And the court said no to a similar group of states, led by the Indiana attorney general, challenging a new Massachusetts law that will prohibit the confinement of pigs, calves and hens in cramped quarters and ban the sale of meat and eggs from animals kept under those conditions.
Interestingly, Justice Clarence Thomas voted to hear those two cases, according to the court’s announcement of its decision. No further explanation was given.
The state attorneys general have been squawking for years about the California egg law, claiming that it violates interstate commerce laws. The Indiana state attorney general who led the challenge to the Massachusetts law also makes the same claim. And in Congress, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) has tried unsuccessfully for years to get a provision into the farm bill that would prohibit states from regulating agricultural products sold in their states. He was really after the California egg law, because many egg farmers in Iowa don’t want to retrofit their barns to California’s requirements.
None of the opponents of these animal welfare measures have gotten anywhere in court or in Congress. It’s good news for animal welfare statutes that the Supreme Court (for whatever reasons) won’t hear challenges to them. But that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the litigation road for advocates for farm animals. Trivia note: the Supreme Court case was filed in 2017 by then Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley, the Republican who beat Democratic incumbent Claire McCaskill to become Missouri’s junior senator. The new attorney general, Eric Schmitt, vowed on Jan. 8 to keep up the fight for consumers and farmers.
Well, so far it’s been a losing battle on all fronts. And, I’m not sure how many consumers are still clinging to the old, inhumane way of raising egg-laying hens. Dozens of restaurant chains, grocery store chains and food manufacturers have switched to cage-free suppliers or are in the process of doing so _ all in reaction not just to state laws but to those consumers who have made it clear that they care not just about their food, but about the welfare of the animals that provided it. And California voters just passed a ballot measure, Proposition 12, that expressly requires that all eggs sold here come from cage-free hens and that all veal and pork products sold here come from calves or breeding pigs (or their offspring) that were not confined.
All these laws and changes spring from a growing consciousness of the welfare of farm animals. There’s no winning a fight against that.